Date: April 25, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
The sub-$100 chassis market is filled to the brim with selection, with the $70 price-point in particular being a total hotspot. AZZA, a relative new-comer to the chassis game, has a wide-variety of models available, with its $70 Toledo 301 being the most recent. Let’s dive right in, and see if other $70 models have a reason to be wary.
It could be a place, a person, a soccer club, a submarine, a compact car, or even a CPU. Whatever the reason for the name, the Toledo 301 mid-tower case from AZZATek is what I have on the table today. As I have been eyeballing AZZA’s products for some time now, I’ve been anxious to see what the company’s latest release has to offer.
For those who may not know about the company, it was formed in 1996 and started life as a motherboard manufacturer. Eventually it transitioned over to an OEM case and power supply role and then the folks there decided to strike out under the name that it carries today. The company biography also mentions that it donates 50% of its net profit to charity. Buy some kit, help a kid!
We’ll start the tour with a look at the front panel. Hidden behind the lower vents is a 120mm blue LED fan to pull cool air into the system and push it across the hard drives. Down the center of these vents is an LED strip for some extra color, and above are the mesh covers for the 3.5″ and four 5.25″ drive bays, none of which feature dust filters.
Held on by two thumb screws, the left panel features something fun; a 250mm blue LED fan! Bigger may not always better but there’s just something awesome about a fan this large (grunt, grunt). If the stock fan doesn’t do the job, it can be removed and replaced with up to four 120mm fans. Seeing how a fan this large would interfere with some of the taller tower CPU coolers, AZZA has chosen to mount it on the flared section of the panel to bring it away from the motherboard to allow for an extra bit of clearance.
Moving around the back we see the motherboard I/O opening at the top left. To the right are two large holes with rubber grommets for some water cooling fun and a 120mm non-LED exhaust fan just below that. Working our way down, there are seven vented, reusable PCI slot covers, a vented area with two additional spots for running more hoses and below that, the opening for the power supply.
I generally don’t spend time on the right side of most cases, but this one deserves a quick mention because it features something that I wish more companies would incorporate in their own designs. Just like the left side of the Toledo 301, the right is also flared to allow for extra space for routing cables. As with the left panel, this one is also held on with two thumb screws.
Let’s go up top and check out the I/O area. On the front left is the reset button and hard drive activity LED just above it. The center features two USB 2.0 connections that flank the 3.5mm microphone and headphone jacks. USB ports in this configuration will allow a large or thick USB drive to be used without blocking off the other port. Finally, over on the right is a nice big power button with a ring around it that glows blue when the system is powered on.
Directly behind the I/O area are several large vents with the AZZA name at the very back. What could be under these vents? I wonder. How about room for two 120mm fans? Not impressed? Read on.
Flipping the case over, the bottom features four hard plastic feet to lift the case off the ground, but do little to prevent slipping or absorb noise caused by vibration. Another 120mm fan can be mounted in the center with the power supply directly behind it. The power supply can be mounted fan down to draw in cool air, however neither openings have a dust filter.
Now it’s time to have a look at the guts, so it’s off with the panels!
With the front panel removed, the 120mm intake fan can be found along with the drive bays. As you can see by the color of the frame, this case features the same black paint job inside to help keep the internals looking clean.
On the left side at the front are four tool-less hard drive bays. The cage where the drives sit has been rotated 90 degrees for easy installation and to keep the build free of extra cables by allowing them to be routed out the back. Each hard drive is secured to a plastic tray and the tray slides into the cage. All trays accept 3.5″ or 2.5″ drives and the bottom tray can handle two 2.5″ drives mounted front to back. If adding a 2.5″ drive, a screwdriver will be needed, however 3.5″ drives can be installed without tools thanks to small plastic pegs on the trays that fit in the mounting holes on the side of each drive.
Above the hard drive cage is the locking mechanism for the 5.25″ drive bays, which is unlike anything I have seen before. To open the lock, two sliding latches need to be pushed together from the top and bottom. The door swings open, components can be installed into any of the drive bays and with the door back in position, the latches are pushed away from each other locking everything in place.
Moving to the bottom of the case, we see the area for the 120mm fan and power supply. The power supply rests on four rubber pads to help absorb any vibration created by the fan. One important point to note is that with larger power supplies installed, the fan area will be blocked off.
The motherboard tray has another feature that I wish more manufacturers included; built-in motherboard standoffs. Less parts, less fumbling, and less build time. Down the right side and at the bottom are cable management areas to help keep things neat and tidy and there is also a large cutout for the CPU cooler back plate to help with the mounting and the removal of some aftermarket heatsinks.
Before the components are installed, I want to have a quick look at the top. Removing the top cover is as easy as removing a screw from each side on the inside of the case and sliding it forward.
Now, I didn’t exactly tell the whole truth earlier. There -is- room for two 120mm fans but users can also install a 240mm radiator. The radiator is mounted inside the case while the fans are mounted outside and the plastic cover goes on over them to keep everything looking stock.
The included hardware is a little sparse but it’s no less than what is needed. There are four reusable cable ties to go with the one pre-installed to keep the wires together during shipping, a baggie of screws to mount the motherboard and drives, a speaker for those who like to hear a reassuring beep during POST, four black screws to secure the power supply and a user guide.
So with that said, it’s time to see how the Toledo 301 stacks up by loading it up with some gear.
I had high hopes for this case since I’m all about competition in the different hardware sectors, but unfortunately, there were problems with it from the very start.
I’m a big fan of built-in motherboard standoffs, however the Toledo only has them in the standard configuration for full-size ATX boards. In the case of this build, where a micro-ATX motherboard was used, there was nothing to secure it to along the bottom edge.
Also, the hole in one of the motherboard mounts down the right side was too large, meaning the screw would not tighten leaving the build with three unsecured points. Since there are no pre-drilled holes to add additional standoffs if needed, I had to support the motherboard with my finger when it came time to attach the front panel leads to the headers along the bottom, or risk having the board flex to an extreme degree.
I was also left with only two screws holding the power supply in place as well because the mounting points on the case did not line up with the screw holes on the power supply itself. This seems to be caused by the two metal braces that are bent out towards the power supply. These braces come out too far and pushes the power supply ever-so-slightly out of position. It’s a good thing I don’t need to lug this rig to a LAN party or it might not survive the trip.
Overall, the inside of the Toledo is quite cramped. I’m not sure why I didn’t catch this earlier but standard width motherboards will block off most of the cable management areas running down the right side of the motherboard tray. Narrow motherboards that only make use of the left and middle rows of standoffs such as the GIGABYTE GA-P55-US3L for instance, will be fine.
I also found that the mounting position for solid-state drives is just a hair too far forward on the plastic hard drive trays. It took some serious flattening of the SATA power connection in order to clear the edge of the tray but it still manages to push up on the connector. If the mounting points were moved back, the edge of the drive would sit flush with the edge of the tray.
Even though the right side of the case is flared out, there is still not much room behind the motherboard tray. If the side wasn’t flared, hiding all but the thinnest cables would be impossible. Luckily, the metal loops where the included cable ties can be installed will allow users to keep things in order so that the side panel can be secured.
For testing, the stock CPU cooler was used. Due to the fact that the stock cooler is grossly underpowered, even running LinX through OCCT to test full load temperatures proved to be too dangerous as they went into the 90s. Due to this, only stock idle CPU temperatures are reported.
GPU load temperatures were generated with a 20 minute run of OCCT’s built-in GPU test. The test was performed at stock speeds and again while overclocked. The final clocks were 1020MHz on the core and 1200MHz for the memory with a +0.025V increase using Sapphire Technology’s TriXX overclocking utility. Stability testing was done prior to ensure the GPU test completes the full run with AIDA64 Extreme Engineer monitoring and recording all temperatures.
The components used in the build are:
Techgage Test System
Intel Core i3-530 – Dual-Core (2.93GHz)
GIGABYTE GA-H55M-USB3 – H55-based
G.Skill ECO 2x2GB DDR3-1600
Sapphire Radeon HD 6850 Toxic
Mushkin Callisto Deluxe 60GB SSD
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
SilverStone Strider Gold 750W
Bigfoot Killer NIC
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
As I mentioned before, bigger is not always better and it seems that I was right. The 250mm fan side fan was whisper quiet but didn’t pull enough air into the system to even keep a piece of paper stuck to the side. The front fan also seems to be very under powered and since there are no model numbers on either one, just the AZZA sticker, there is no telling if they are operating within spec. The end result is nearly silent operation but at the expense of cooling.
Our case testing system should be ready soon so once the components are finalized, a database of stock and overclocked CPU and GPU temperatures will be built for comparison purposes.
Despite all of these shortcomings, there are things that the Toledo 301 does well, so I’ll sum it all up on the final page.
Yes, I came down hard on this case on the previous page, but it’s because there are a few things that just make me scratch my head.
On one hand, there are motherboard mounting issues with a lack of built-in standoffs and some quality slip-ups during manufacturing. The cable management clearance issues can be overlooked, but not the clearance issues with mounting solid-state drives or alignment issues with the power supply.
It’s unclear whether or not our review sample simply had bad fans, but the ones included were severely underpowered. If this is the way the fans should operate, users will need to make the choice of cooling versus sound.
On the other hand, the Toledo 301 is built like a tank. It’s easily one of the most solid cases that I have used. It also has one of the best paint jobs I have seen in a while, with the paint evenly applied inside and out, and it resists fingerprints almost entirely thanks to the mottled texture.
There is also room for radiators up to 240mm long and a good amount of drive bays for future expansion. I was also surprised by the sturdiness of the locking mechanism for the 5.25″ drive bays. From an aesthetic standpoint, those who like a little bit of flash can have that as well, although the front and top vents may be an acquired taste.
Seeing how the Toledo 301 occupies the very crowded ~$70 price range, there are other cases out there that feature more for less while getting just about everything right. Things that I would like to see included are filters on the mesh drive covers, bottom fan area and power supply intake. Rubber feet on the bottom would be nice as well but the biggest thing would be the inclusion of either built-in motherboard standoffs or pre-drilled holes and included standoffs so that micro-ATX motherboards can be properly secured.
With better options out there for a case of this price range, it’s hard, if not impossible, to recommend the Toledo 301. It has some perks, but they unfortunately don’t overshadow the faults.
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